The breed takes its name from the Hospice of the Great Saint Bernard Pass which was founded in AD980 by St Bernard de Menthon as a refuge for travellers through the dangerous Alpine pass between Switzerland and Italy. By 1707 the overworked monks realised that dogs with their superior noses, strength and weather-resistant coats were better equipped to rescue travellers. They had an in-bred sense of direction which was the key to survival in blizzards which caused humans to become totally lost and disorientated. Early records have been lost but by 1800, the monks had established their own breeding programme, calling the dogs Alpine Mastiffs. Edwin Landseer painted these dogs on canvas, one entitled, 'Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveller' portrayed two dogs standing over a fallen traveller. One of the dogs was baying for help, and the other had the well-known brandy cask around its neck, attempting to revive the man by licking his hand. This famous, though non-existent brandy keg has carried as a symbol through the years.

Tales of great rescues were reported with one of the most famous dogs, Barry, having saved the lives of 40 people. On his 41st mission, the traveller killed the poor dog in a 'fit of cowardly terror'. Around 1810 the breed was often referred to as Barry hounds. In the 1830's many of the dogs were lost due to interbreeding, disease and bad winters causing the monks to outcross the remaining dogs with Newfoundlands, Great Pyrenees and also, it is thought, Great Danes. This established the St Bernard's breed. Today the breed is still a mascot at the monastery. In 1870 the Reverend J C Macdona, an English owner, brought the breed before the public, making a sensation in America. In 1877 the first St Bernards' were shown at Westminster Kennel Club and in their catalogue, asking prices for sales of some of the breed reached US$1000. The breed still enjoys tremendous popularity in America, although its numbers in Britain and the Continent remain limited.


Because they are slow thinkers, St Bernards require a lot of understanding from their owners during training. Young dogs must be taught from an early age not to pull on their leads as this habit will be difficult to break when they are older.


Show Characteristics

In the Rough coated, the coat should be dense and flat, fuller round the neck and thighs with a well feathered tail. In the Smooth coated, the coat should be close and hound-like with slight feathering on the thighs and tail. The head should be massive, a short muzzle with a somewhat abrupt stop and fairly prominent brow. The nose should be large and black with well developed nostrils. The jaws should be strong with a complete scissor bite. The eyes should be medium-sized and dark in colour. The ears should be medium-sized, lying close to the cheeks, with no heavy feathering. The neck should be long, thick and muscular, joining onto broad and sloping shoulders. The back should be broad and straight with well rounded ribs. The forelegs should be straight, with good bone and of good length. The back legs should again be heavy in bone with muscular thighs. The feet are large, compact with well arched toes. The tail should be set on high, long and carried low. Markings should be as follows: white muzzle, white blaze on face, white collar, white chest, white forelegs, feet and end of tail, black shadings on face and ears.



General Character And Temperament

A 'gentle giant' sums up the character of the St Bernard. They are good-humoured, trustworthy and benign. This is a breed that loves family life and revels in the company of children. They are very loyal dogs who rarely bark, but will defend you and your possessions if necessary. They normally accept other household animals with no problems. The breed is not the most extroverted but is a slow, deep thinker.



Grooming is not a problem apart from the amount of coat to get through! St Bernards need brushed or combed daily to remove loose hairs. The ears should be kept clean and the eyes checked very regularly, especially those dogs with drooping eyelids. St Bernards are clean animals but do tend to slobber.


This breed can be solid white with red markings; solid red with white markings or brindle patches with white. There are both long and short haired St Bernards.